- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 6, 2014

Senate Republicans filibustered the latest effort Thursday to extend federal unemployment benefits, but Democrats fell just one vote shy of winning, leaving them optimistic they will eventually be able to overcome the blockade.

Four GOP senators joined with all Democrats in supporting a three-month extension retroactive to Dec. 28, when benefits expired. Sen. Jack Reed, Rhode Island Democrat and sponsor of the plan, said he hopes they can win over at least one more Republican next week.

“We’re not going to give up, we’re going to try again,” he told reporters Thursday after the vote. “We came close, but close doesn’t count.”

He said Democrats are also considering adding the unemployment measure to a future must-pass bill, but said they won’t attach it to the looming debt limit increase, which he said should be passed without conditions.

Democrats have said it’s imperative to renew the program, which kicks in when the long-term unemployed run out of state benefits. More than 1.7 million people have lost the federal benefits since the program expired Dec. 28.

Mr. Reed’s plan would allow for three more months of payments, retroactive to December and extending through late March, at a cost of about $6 billion. He would pay for the cost by tweaking the way companies fund their pension programs, which would mean more taxes would come into the government in the short run.

But critics say it’s a gimmick that just front-loads the money, since over the long run the companies will have to make good on their pension payments, meaning less tax revenue for the government later.

Republicans also said they want a chance to offer their own plans — something they said Democrats have refused.

“Rather than work with us to find common ground, the majority leader once again chose to reject our ideas and block action on amendments to improve and pay for this legislation,” Sen. Dan Coats, Indiana Republican, said in a statement.

Mr. Reed, however, said the problem isn’t the cost, but rather a belief among Republicans that the program is a handout for lazy Americans who don’t want to get a job. The best way to combat that notion, he said, is continuing to share stories of middle-aged workers losing their homes, struggling to keep the lights on or choosing between food and mortgage payments.

“When those stories come out, I think we can start moving people forward,” he said.

President Obama issued a statement shortly after the vote admonishing Republicans for standing in the way of extending benefits, which has been a bipartisan issue in the past.

“We cannot allow one vote to stand in the way of supporting these Americans as they struggle to find work,” Mr. Obama said in a statement. “Both sides of the aisle have worked together to prevent this kind of hardship in the past, and neglecting to do so now is unacceptable — especially given the high long-term unemployment rate.”

Democrats fell four votes short of extending the benefits in early January after disagreements about the need for an offset and the Republicans’ ability to introduce amendments stalled the effort.

Even if an extension does pass the Senate, it’s unlike Speaker John A. Boehner would bring it up for a vote in the House. He’s said before that he’s waiting on a plan from the president that is fully paid for and includes job creation measures.

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